RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Just over half of North Carolina hospitals reviewed by a watchdog organization are complying with a federal price transparency law, a study found.
The report by Patient Rights Advocate found 28 of the 51 hospitals in the state that it evaluated met the organization’s standard.
Still, the 55 percent compliance rate in North Carolina is significantly higher than the national rate: Less than a quarter of hospitals across the U.S. that it studied were fully compliant with the 2-year-old law that requires those facilities to provide clear and accessible pricing information online.
“It’s a positive that North Carolina is doing much better than the rest of the states in the country,” said Cynthia Fisher, the founder and chairman of the organization.
“However, that means the other half of hospitals are still blocking use of comparative prices, and still blocking anyone from actually getting access to these prices to benefit from competition and consumer choice.”
The organization released its fourth semiannual compliance report earlier this week.
The study looked at about 2,000 of the largest hospitals in the country. The 51 North Carolina hospitals reviewed represent less than half of the 110 in the state.
“These are the wealthiest systems in our country,” Fisher said.
The report found 10 North Carolina hospitals moved from being noncompliant in August to compliant in the latest report. None of the three that backslid in the other direction — AdventHealth in Hendersonville, ECU Health Medical Center in Greenville and Haywood Regional Medical Center in Clyde — are located in the CBS 17 viewing area.
Among the facilities in central North Carolina, the report says UNC Medical Center and UNC Rex Healthcare were compliant.
“UNC Health is confident that our hospitals are compliant with federal price transparency requirements, and we continue to make improvements,” spokesman Alan Wolf said, adding that consumers can check those prices at this website. “UNC Health supports disclosure of price information, quality data and other information to assist consumers in making decisions about their health.”
The report said Duke University Hospital and Duke Regional Hospital were not — and neither was WakeMed Raleigh. It did not evaluate Duke Raleigh Hospital or the WakeMed facilities in north Raleigh or Cary.
The report dinged the two Duke hospitals for a pair of shortcomings: Failing to provide an adequate number of their lowest charges for a service, and for failing to adequately identify specific plans for all commercial payers — the most common criticism among noncompliant hospitals in the state, the report found.
Duke Health did not immediately provide an explanation or a substantive comment when asked by CBS 17 News.
It says WakeMed’s list of standard charges failed to provide an adequate amount of gross charges and negotiated rates.
WakeMed spokeswoman Kristin Kelly said the federal agency that determines compliance — the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — and the state attorney general’s office both found her facility to be in compliance with those transparency requirements at both governmental levels.
“We are not certain how this advocacy group makes their determination, so it’s important to rely on CMS for reporting on this topic,” Kelly said.
Fisher says her group’s definition of full compliance include the publication of the rates for services in a consumer-friendly manner, in plain language and in a format that can be read by other computer systems on the internet — in other words, popular search engines and software developers.
She says CMS has only looked at a fraction of the thousands of hospitals across the country, and only two have been fined — both in Georgia.
“Civil fines work,” she said. “However, you know, most of the hospitals clearly have not even been looked at by CMS at this point.”
Fisher says one of the purposes of the report is to “show CMS that … they can readily enforce the law.
“The only way we can make this work is if everyone comes into compliance,” she said.